Tuesday, 13 November 2012

On Morality, the Petraeus affair and the bailouts

Who we are, as a society, is defined by a certain set of values that guide the general direction in which we want to develop. This set of values is supposed to influence all members of society, regardless of their position or rank. It is this social morality that pushes us to make certain decisions and to follow a certain path. But, like anything else, morality should be questioned and should be looked at in contextual terms, not general. The current ideas that morality is not subject to change and that it is dangerous to question our social view of morality are, in my view, the biggest obstacle to innovation and liberty.

During the last few weeks debates with an underlying morality issue have been taking the spotlight and, although the general topic of discussion in these debates is of a different nature, I believe it is important to examine the morality elements involved. 

As you must know by now, the CIA Director has resigned after the FBI has stumbled upon evidence of his affair with the woman who has written his biography.  The whole issue is also threatening to take down General John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, who seemed to be having an affair of his own, interconnected somehow to that of Petraeus. In his statement, Petraeus clearly says that the reason for his resignation is his 'unacceptable behavior' of having engaged in an extramarital affair. The general public seems to accept this is a good excuse. I don't. The role of the CIA Director is morally repulsive. The duties include the coordination of massive lying campaigns and hiding the truth;  assassinations and kidnappings; stealing and many, many other things that are completely opposed to the common set of moral values. Yet the general public seemed to accept that this particular breach of morality made this person unfit to breach the other moral creeds. His PR strategy actually made him look like an 'honorable man' for accepting his mistake and stepping aside. That is because people who look at morality in general terms tend to be easy to manipulate and are happy to see blood (or in this case resignations) no matter what context we are looking at.  It is more plausible that Petraeus resigned because he accidentally gave his mistress secret information that she later leaked. That is a serious breach of security and a proper reason for his resignation but that would shatter the illusion of many Americans that the CIA is an efficient protector of their security and not just another bureaucracy.

This case, and many others like this one, shows how people are manipulated by big organisations into believing a lie with the help of so called 'moral virtues'. The explanation that he resigned because his affair was immoral is just dust being thrown in the eyes of the general public. Morality never had anything to do with his job in the first place.

Morality rarely has anything to do with any job. Bankers, in certain respects, are required to be immoral to do their jobs. Their system is governed by greed and the search for profit, nothing to do with morality. In this respect, their system is supposed to be separated from the classical social values and it doesn't take into consideration morality in any way. The reason banks follow laws and regulations (when they do) is that this is a legal condition for them being part of the system. In a way, this total lack of morality in the banking system was a cause of the banking collapse that led to the economic crisis. And yet, the same leaders that think the immorality of an affair is a good enough reason to terminate the career of a successful general decided that it is a good idea to bail out the immoral banks with the money of the people who they told that morality is an important factor in their decisions.  So was it moral to save the banks? I don't see how. Necessary, maybe, but not moral.

What is the difference between Petraeus and the bankers? I believe that people only care about morality when it comes to trivial, personal issues. They will use morality to judge other people and to feel better about their own lives. The general public cannot identify with the banking system or with the ethics and duties of the CIA Director. But they can identify with the human who has an affair. And because they can judge him on that immorality, they will not want him as a leader, as good of a leader or professional as he might  be. They are better than him in that respect so he needs to suffer for his mistake.

I will conclude on a personal note. I am, by many general standards, an immoral man. I do not believe in the general view of morality and I do not have any desire to take it into consideration. Yet I do not reject the idea of morality. I just believe it is contextual. It always depends, in my view, on the options available. And I believe that if there were more people like me, we would have a much easier time growing as a society and developing into a much better community of individuals with different values and various views on what morality should be.

I completely adhere to the ideas in this interview, particularly the view on morality:


1 comment:

  1. Good article as always. When I red about his resignation, I was thorn by the trivial reason, (the affair) as to explain why he leaves his position. I expect a lot more from a guy, who spent his entire LIFE in the Army, starting at 1974. You don`t build a carrier just to destroy it so quickly. Whoever believes that, is seriously misled.